Russia, China step up Syria peace efforts

Moscow along with Beijing has twice wielded its Security Council veto to block UN action on the crisis in Syria.

Damascus: Russia and China, who twice blocked
UN resolutions to condemn ally Syria, were on Monday stepping up
efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis, as the Red
Cross was again denied access to a battered rebel district.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he was
preparing for a meeting on Saturday in Cairo with his Arab
counterparts to discuss its ally Syria due to the "urgency" of
the crisis.

And China said it was sending a new envoy to Damascus and
is ready to support international aid under the auspices of
the United Nations or another "impartial" organisation.

The diplomatic moves came as the International Committee
of the Red Cross said today it had still not been granted
permission to enter Baba Amr, the rebellious district of Homs
overrun four days ago by regime forces.

"Negotiations are still ongoing," ICRC spokesman Saleh
Dabbakeh said, amid mounting international outrage against
President Bashar al-Assad`s regime for its 11-month crackdown
on dissent which the UN says has claimed at least 7,500 lives.

Rebel fighters fled Baba Amr on Thursday in the face of a
ground assault by regime forces following a month-long
shelling blitz which the US-based Human Rights Watch said had
killed some 700 people.

On the political front Russia and China -- who have faced
international criticism for their support of the Syrian regime
-- separately announced plans to help find solutions to ease
the crisis.

Lavrov said he was preparing for a meeting with Arab foreign ministers on March 10 in Cairo.

"Considering the urgency of the Syria issue, when
collective approaches for a settlement need to be found, we
view this as a valuable and important format," Lavrov said of
the Cairo meeting.

Moscow along with Beijing has twice wielded its Security
Council veto to block UN action on the crisis in Syria, first
in October last year and again in February.

Lavrov`s remarks come a day after Saudi Foreign Minister
Prince Saud al-Faisal urged Moscow to "advise" Assad`s regime
to stop its the "bloodshed and massacres."

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Weimin said
that China`s former ambassador to Damascus, Li Huaxin, would
travel to Syria on Wednesday for meetings with the government
and other parties.

"Although the situation is complex and tense, China still
thinks that the political resolution of the Syrian issue is
the fundamental way to solve the crisis," he said.

On Sunday, Beijing called on both sides to end the
violence, even as Syrian forces trained their guns on the
rebel city of Rastan, near Homs.

According to Britain-based monitoring group the Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights, Syrian artillery fired a barrage
of shells into Rastan, which killed seven civilians, four of
them children.

Including the Rastan deaths, a total of 19 civilians were
killed across Syria on Sunday, the Observatory said. It also
reported the death of a soldier in the northwest province of